An exchange of letters about union intimidation claims at the U

Just an update in the efforts by a group of University of Minnesota graduate students to form a union.

Last month, I tweeted from a grad-student forum that some students were saying they’d received an administration memo claiming that union organizers were intimidating students in an effort to get them to join.

Below are two letters that the U has apparently sent the organizers, and after that comes the students’ response.

(Note: About four dozen people signed the student letter. Only one is listed, because I left off the two pages that followed to save space.)




  • Grad Student X

    As a graduate student at the U of M, I think we would benefit from being unionized. However, I do not trust the current group of union organizers who, after 3 years and 2 rounds of signature cards, have not accomplished anything towards making our work environment better. The grad students leading the union push worked underground for a year, refusing to discuss what was happening with other graduate students. When they did appear, they have had no concrete answers for us, except to say that unions are good, not how this UAW union is the right union for us. The leaders were not organized enough to get the first round of signature cards signed in time to use them; so we need to go through signatures again. This is not progress.

    I have no doubt that some grad students feel harassed by the union leadership. The U’s response is too strong, and actually helps the union by being the bad guy.

    • Grad Student Y

      Hi Grad Student X,

      I’m glad you think grads would benefit from a union. As a graduate student who has helped out with the organizing drive, I just wanted to clarify a few things about your post. First of all, union organizing campaigns take a long time in any situation, that’s not unusual at all. You should be grateful that you have colleagues who are dedicated and willing enough to talk with people and sign them up.

      Also, you should read the GSWU website and the letter above more closely. Harassment is a strong claim, and I think the letter is pretty clear as to why that is inappropriate and misleading. Being annoyed by or disagreeing with someone does not constitute harassment.

      As to why the UAW: they represent more graduate assistants than any other union. Why does that not seem like a logical choice? Besides, we will be our own local union and elect our own leaders. We will negotiate our contract, and we will vote on that contract. Affiliating with a larger union is a smart thing to do, but it’s not what makes a union “right for us.” (We aren’t shopping for shoes or a car…) We ultimately make our own progress. And yes, progress has been made. The administration has been giving departments raises left and right in a panic to basically bribe people into not supporting a union. Again, this seems pretty shameless and inappropriate. If your department hasn’t received one yet, I’m sure it’s on the way, don’t worry.

      Accomplishing something that makes your work environment better is what a union is for ONCE IT IS ESTABLISHED. That’s what everyone is doing right now. I hope you will be a constructive participant in making it a reality.

  • Grad Student Z

    I’m also a grad student at the U of M and I have to say that the letters sent by the University are absolutely correct and just. The union organizers that have visited my campus have been universally unfriendly, aggressive, annoying, and relentless. They make a point to visit the workplace during the busiest hours of the day (and, in some cases, during office hours, interrupting my work with students) to make sure that we’re around so they can feed us rehearsed lines about why unions are good. When met with resistance, they become hostile, accusing any student that shows a hesitance to sign their card of being anti-union and anti-civil rights.

    For clarity, Grad Student Y, when union organizers disturb grad students at their places of residence and persistently ignore requests to leave, “harassment” is absolutely the correct word to use.

    Unions are a good thing and a necessity in the work climate in which we serve. These union organizers, however, are the opposite. They are overbearing, overly aggressive, and annoying. They lack in tact and social graces, they don’t understand simple words and phrases like “no” “please leave” and “I’m busy,” and they seem completely uneducated on what they’re trying to accomplish. When challenged with a question like “what will this union accomplish for me?” or “what issues are important to the graduate school right now?” they resort to spewing generic responses and change the subject to accusing us of being anti-union.

    With any luck, these organizers will be barred from my campus permanently so I can work in peace, and pursue unionization on my own time.

    • Grad Student Z

      I should also like to point out that the GSWU/UAW response in this article is reactionary to the point of absurdity. It reads more like an angry teenager posting his thoughts on a YouTube video than the response of what purports to be a professional organization. If the only choice I had for unionization was the organization employing this person as their PR associate, I think that I would rather take my chances alone in the world. I would be loath to have such a childish person representing me to my employers; it is my aim to gain the trust of those signing my paychecks, not diminish it.

    • Mana

      Just so you know, these organizers cannot be barred from campus because they are paid University workers. They are your peers. Graduate student workers. Not outsiders.

      I am sorry you have been annoyed with union organizers. Did you know that tactics such as in-person conversations are the same tactics used in political campaigns to elect presidents? Door knocking is the easiest and quickest way to inform people about important issues. We wouldn’t want to ban people from talking about political elections would we? Then why would we do the same with union conversations?

      In my eyes I would rather have an organizer be at my door too many times then not inform me at all. These organizers have to talk to like 5000 people. The fact they actually WANT to talk to each and every one of us about a union and are driven enough to take the time to discuss people’s concerns is impressive and I really respect that.

      I do not care how many times a union organizer contacts me about the union. It is refreshing to see this sort of activity on campus and I am voting yes for the union. 

      • Grad Student Z

        I understand that they cannot be barred from campus – forgive me for using hyperbole, but the situation called for it. On my campus, however, they are outsiders. People not from my city, not from my campus, people who don’t know anything about my work environment.

        Indeed! In-person conversations are common in political advocacy. However, I have never been pestered in my office during office hours by a candidate for office. Additionally, when visited at home by such a candidate, if I ask them to leave or indicate that I’m not interested, they leave immediately.

        You’re playing the victim. You’re not. You act as though the university and the people complaining are upset about the fact that you are allowed to advocate for your cause. We’re not! No one ever said that. The complaint is that the organizers are obnoxious, rude, uneducated, and unwilling to take rejection from their prospects.

        It’s refreshing to have a drive for a union on campus, but the methods used to promote it border on harassment. Frankly, if you somehow ignored the entire point of these letters and attacked the people complaining by saying they’re anti-union, then you have done nothing but prove the complaints to be valid.

      • Grad Student Z

        I understand that they cannot be barred from campus – forgive me for using hyperbole, but the situation called for it. On my campus, however, they are outsiders. People not from my city, not from my campus, people who don’t know anything about my work environment.

        Indeed! In-person conversations are common in political advocacy. However, I have never been pestered in my office during office hours by a candidate for office. Additionally, when visited at home by such a candidate, if I ask them to leave or indicate that I’m not interested, they leave immediately.

        You’re playing the victim. You’re not. You act as though the university and the people complaining are upset about the fact that you are allowed to advocate for your cause. We’re not! No one ever said that. The complaint is that the organizers are obnoxious, rude, uneducated, and unwilling to take rejection from their prospects.

        It’s refreshing to have a drive for a union on campus, but the methods used to promote it border on harassment. Frankly, if you somehow ignored the entire point of these letters and attacked the people complaining by saying they’re anti-union, then you have done nothing but prove the complaints to be valid.

  • Mr Carton

    No, these aren’t baseless claims, I’ve been personally disrupted by creepy union representatives, who refuse to leave, after pushing their way into our offices. I am extremely pro union for workers rights, but I am also adamantly against the UAW for the U of M. Waiting outside of your classroom while you teach a course is inappropriate and disruptive.

    • Mel

      As someone who waited outside a classroom to talk to someone about the union, let me explain.
      First, it is sometimes difficult to find my fellow grad student workers. It is also really important to me to make sure ALL OF US get to hear about and discuss the union. Sometimes, a person’s classroom is the only way to find them.
      In my experience people were really happy for my visit because they had heard about the union but had not gotten a chance to sign a union card.
      And if someone was like, hey this is a bad time, then I just asked them when a better time would be to chat. No big deal.
      So I just wanted to say that your fellow grad workers, like me, are not trying to be disruptive. After all, I teach too, I get it. But when someone has not had a chance to sign a union card I really put in a strong effort to make sure they have contact with grad worker organizers.
      And to be totally blunt: taking 5 minutes to talk about a movement//sign a card that has the incredibly real potential to change our working conditions for the better is a pretty small amount of labor to put forth for such a shift in our work.

      • Grad Student Z

        You imply that 5 minutes is all your fellow organizers take. You seem to miss the entire point of the exchange of letters – it’s not the fact that we have to talk to someone about something. It’s the fact that the organizers entirely lack social graces and reservations. The hostility that they exhibit when challenged or turned down is, frankly, a little frightening, and does nothing but hurt their cause.

        You may not personally be trying to be disruptive, but many of your peers are succeeding in doing so. Please keep that in mind.

    • Grad Student V

      I also agree, these are NOT baseless claims.  All the graduate students in my building felt harassed. We very clearly expressed we had no interest in supporting a union.  However, the union representatives kept coming back into my lab, calling my general lab phone, calling my cell phone.  It got to be extremely ridiculous.  Why would I vote for an organization that is so hostile?